What to Know About O&O…

Orchid or Onion? You Help Decide.
Ever ask yourself why a place becomes a favorite spot that people return to time and again to make memories that last a lifetime? Or what makes San Diego “San Diego”? Why is our city so special, and could it be even more special? And what about the future of our downtown, the waterfront, the parks, the neighborhoods we call home?

To answer these questions, we turn to you—yes you! SDAF’s Orchids & Onions program brings San Diegans together to decide which parts of the built environment—be it building, park or plaza—make our city a better place to live. Each year brings in a whole new crop of projects, spaces and places to consider, nominate, comment on and vote into fame or infamy. Get involved and make your voice heard!

What Makes a Project an Orchid or an Onion?
Making San Diego an even better place then it already is by designing and building inspiring spaces and places, starts with thinking about the elements of design. Here is the criteria that is used or evaluate projects. 


  • Exemplifies good place making, i.e. it is a functional and memorable place or space to be
  • Contributes to its surrounding context and adds to community character
  • Skillfully and thoughtfully detailed and crafted – showing respect for materials and the community
  • Expresses something relevant to our time and place – San Diego, 2019 as well as its function
  • Provides social and economic benefit to San Diegans
  • Encourages social interaction or a quiet moment
  • Elicits a sense of civic pride
  • Is technologically or environmentally innovative
  • Supports community building


  • The opposite of an Orchid
  • A missed opportunity 
  • A blight or eyesore that shows a lack of commitment to quality design and our community

Here is How it Works

Nominating and Jury Process
It all begins with you—proud San Diegans who share a vision to make our city all it can be. Nominations typically open in June. Visit the Orchids & Onions nominations page and nominate your favorite projects. Categories include architecture, interior design, urban planning, landscape architecture, historic preservation and “miscellaneous”-anything not covered by other categories. This can range from public art and environmental graphics to sustainable and technological innovation in design. Be sure to share and comment on your favorite entries as those that get the most attention from the community will make the shortlist for consideration by the public for the People’s Choice award.

After nominations close, a multidisciplinary jury convenes to cull the nominations for the year’s harvest for best and worst. Made up of design professionals, plus one student and one member from the general public, the jury tours the cream of the crop, traveling to each project for firsthand evaluation. Jurors then deliberate on which entries earn a spot at the winner’s table (our orchids) versus those that need to be composted (the onions).

Cast Your Vote for People’s Choice
You and other San Diegans determine the nominees and winners for each year’s People’s Choice Orchid and Onion. This is how it works. Nominated projects with the most online interest in June and July become nominees for the People’s Choice Award. During the month of August, votes are cast online to determine the year’s People’s Choice Orchid and Onion. Join us in October to celebrate the winners!

Step Up to Sponsorship
When you become a sponsor for this vital and vibrant program, you not only support its continued and future success, you also make your organization visible to a unique audience of professionals and fellow citizens committed to inspired place making. Your support will be recognized throughout the season, from opening of the nominations through to the exciting awards ceremony. Click here to learn more about sponsor benefits, levels of sponsorship and how to become a sponsor.

Awards Festivities
Join us for a fun-filled, thought-provoking night of commentary and discussion about San Diego’s built environment as we award the orchids and onions. Attendees include design enthusiasts, industry professionals and city leaders who all bring their energy and insights. The Orchids & Onions Awards Gala is held each year in October, we hope to see you there!

Dedicated Volunteer Committee

This passionate bunch come together every year to organize this amazing event.

The Jury

The 2019 Orchids & Onions jury is comprised of the following members of the local design and academic community:

Miti Aiello: Miti Aiello is an Assistant Professor and academic researcher in the Undergraduate and Graduate Architecture Program at NewSchool of Architecture & Design. She is also the owner of ArchistDesign Studio, with projects ranging from residential remodels, permitting, urban infill projects, pro-bono work, and architectural photography. “Being a juror for Orchids & Onions 2019 is a remarkable opportunity to check the architectural pulse of San Diego, and I feel very privileged and excited to be a part of this community-driven event.”

James Brown: James is Principal of Public Architecture and Planning. Public is an architecture and construction firm that comes from a furniture and art background. They maintain a varied practice and welcome new ventures and interesting alliances. Public’s portfolio includes numerous projects throughout the Southern California region, as well as New York and Montana.

Matthew Ellis, AIA, NCARB: With more than 24 years of design experience in San Diego, Matthew has a vast portfolio ranging from single-family residential to commercial and institutional design. As founder of Bluemotif Architecture (2002), Matthew is recognized widely in Southern California for his contributions to the hospitality design industry. He is the recipient of numerous design awards and accolades for local projects such as Kettner Exchange, Juniper & Ivy, The Crack Shacks, Farmer & The Seahorse, and Cowboy Star. Matthew merged his practice with international design firm PGAL in 2018 and continues the local leadership as Principal of the firm. “I am honored to be selected as a juror for the 2019 Orchids & Onions Awards. Recognition programs (both great and not-so-great) of the built environment and the people that shape it is a great way to raise public awareness and gives power to the people. I look forward to seeing what our bold and brave patrons and talented pool of design professionals bring to the table this year!”

David Hecht, AIA, LEED AP: David Hecht has practiced architecture in California since 1987.  His extensive design and building experience ranges from single-family homes to religious, commercial, academic, hospitality and multi-family buildings as well as numerous corporate headquarters. Mr. Hecht’s distinctive structures have received numerous design awards and have been featured in international publications.  The Cannery Lofts, winner of an Orange County AIA Honor Award,  as well as the Builder’s Choice Project of the Year Award, consists of the architecture and urban design for an entire city block in Newport Beach, California. Mr. Hecht manages Tannerhecht Architecture firm’s San Francisco office. 

Amber Lake, PLA, ASLA, LEED AP: Amber Lake is the lead Landscape Architect at Carrier Johnson + CULTURE. With a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo and a Master of Architecture from the NewSchool of Architecture + Design in San Diego, Ms. Lake continues to inspire her fellow colleagues with her creative talent, hard work ethic and fun-loving collaboration style. Ms. Lake has been recognized with 3 President’s Awards by the American Society of Landscape Architects, San Diego Chapter, is active in the ASLA, and the United States Green Building Council. Her experience includes in-depth knowledge of the public input process, the relationship between neighborhoods and local developers, and the role that civic collaboration plays within a community context.

David Malmuth: Throughout his distinguished career in real estate, David has demonstrated the ability to conceptualize and implement unique solutions for each site he has encountered. No two projects are the same. Each place, whether it be primarily retail, entertainment, office, or multi-family, draws its inspiration from the site’s context and history, and is therefore fully integrated into its surroundings. This approach has resulted in places that produce long-term value for the community as well as ownership. After attending Stanford University he has worked on major development projects including The I.D.E.A. District, New Amsterdam Theatre, Disney Ice, and Hollywood & Highland.

Tatiana Ortiz-Rubio: Tatiana is a Mexican visual artist focusing on oil painting, drawing, and most recently, muralism. Her work focuses on the experience of time, exploring the present, and the transitions of change. She has shown her work in Mexico, the United States, and the Dominican Republic. Tatiana has participated in Artist in Residency Programs such as at the Chavon School of Design in the Dominican Republic, where she also taught for a semester, and also completed the three month residency at the Bread&Salt Gallery in San Diego. She currently teaches drawing and painting at the University of San Diego and was invited to participate in the Biennial Maria Izquierdo in Guadalajara, Mexico where she received a grant from the Centro Cultural Tijuana (CECUT) in order to create a temporary mural installation. “I am very excited to learn about and discover more of San Diego’s design and architectural landscape. Orchids and Onions is a great way of creating an aesthetically conscious community that is actively involved in its development and identity.”

Jessica Pope: Jessica is a second year master’s student at the NewSchool of Architecture and Design in the IPAL program as well as a Design Assistant at SGPA Architecture and Planning. Jessica’s decision to become an architect was inspired by the desire to travel and help people around the world through architecture and design. She recently won Outstanding Design Award from NewSchool as well as Honorable Mention in the CASH student design competition. “I’m incredibly fortunate to be a part of the Orchids and Onions panel this year. I’m so excited to represent the student body and next generation of architects. I’m looking forward to all of the events, design discussions, and seeing all the nominees in this year’s program. It’s an amazing opportunity to highlight the projects that are helping to shape our young city every year.”

Brian Rickling, AIA, NCARB: With over 25 years of experience in the architectural profession, Brian’s expertise as a preservation architect covers a wide range of project types including historic restoration, historic reconstruction, and adaptive reuse of historic and non-historic structures, As a Senior Principal Architect for Heritage Architecture and Planning, Brian’s recent portfolio includes the rehabilitation of the Naval Postgraduate School’s Herrmann Hall in Monterrey, the rehabilitation of the General’s Quarters and four Officer’s Quarters at Marine Corp Recruit Depot in San Diego, the Fresno Santa Fe Depot Rehabilitation and Adaptive Reuse, the exterior renovation of the Sheffield Reservoir Filtration Building, and guiding the San Diego Air & Space Museum design studies and tenant improvement projects. “Every year I look forward to O&O to see what else has been built in our city that deserves discussion. This is a great event that brings out opinions for the best and worst architectural design in San Diego. I enjoy the discussion of style, design, and architecture in our city. O&O leads the discussion to improving design in San Diego.“

Heather Ruszczyk: Heather is an Architect at the Miller Hull Partnership, where she has helped to elevate public facing work in San Diego.  This includes highly visible projects at the Scripps and UC San Diego campuses, along the San Diego waterfront, and at the San Diego Zoo. Heather’s work is focused on purposeful place-making and environmental stewardship in the built environment.  She is committed to bettering our city through thoughtful design and has been involved in SDAF’s Open House program since its inception. 

Regina VanderWerff: A professional in design and construction, Regina VanderWerff prides herself on her passion for innovation and pushing the creative limits of the two industries. Currently, Regina serves the San Diego region as business development manager for Boston-based Suffolk Construction. Prior to Suffolk, she served as Southern California regional director of business development with Detroit-based SmithGroup, and San Diego region manager of business development at Southfield, Michigan-based Harley Ellis Devereaux (HED), both nationally award winning architectural and engineering firms. Prior to her time in commercial real estate, Regina spent a decade working in the residential interior design industry. She is a member of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP), Urban Land Institute San Diego-Tijuana (ULI), San Diego Architectural Foundation (SDAF), Downtown San Diego Partnership (DSDP), Commercial Real Estate Women San Diego (CREW) and the International Society of Pharmaceutical Engineers (ISPE). Regina attended the Design Institute of San Diego, where she studied interior design.

Contact Us

Contact Us



P.O. Box 122228
San Diego, CA 92112-2228
Federal Tax ID: 95-3513927

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Orchids & Onions is an educational and fundraising program of the San Diego Architectural Foundation, a 501(c)3, nonprofit organization dedicated to education and the promotion of outstanding architecture, planning and urban design throughout the San Diego region.

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